It was “Competition Tuesday” at Howard Jones Field for the first official practice of the fall semester.
And how fitting it was that redshirt sophomore Aaron Corp returned to battle freshman Matt Barkley for the starting quarterback spot.
Corp, recovering from a cracked fibula in his left leg, didn’t appear limited as he moved around in the pocket.
“It was about as full speed as I could be,” Corp said Tuesday. “I can do everything right now that playing quarterback at USC needs me to do, and it’s only going to get better.”
Carroll denied saying that Tuesday was the day Corp needed to return to be considered to start the season opener on Sept. 5 against San Jose State.
Still, he agreed that it was important for Corp to return to practice.
“This is a big step for him,” Carroll said. “He’ll get a chance all the way to Saturday to show where he sits. I think that’s a very important opportunity for Aaron … but there’s no deadlines.”
Saturday is USC’s mock game, scheduled to take place at the Coliseum at 12:30 p.m.
Corp initially suffered the injury when redshirt sophomore linebacker Shane Horton rolled into his leg during a scrimmage in fall camp on Aug. 10.
“I’m a little nervous, first day back,” Corp said. “I have to prove myself all over again and continue to play well and play like I’m capable of [playing].”
Corp said he took “a few” snaps with the rest of the first-team offense. The rest went to Barkley, who threw two interceptions.
Barkley was picked by safety Drew McAllister on a mid-range pass out of the pocket and threw a would-be pick-six to defensive end Everson Griffen on a screen pass.
“I didn’t really have the right read on it,” Barkley said of the play that resulted in McAllister’s interception. “We’ll try to improve on it, but I don’t know how long that play will last.”
In Corp’s absence, the 18-year-old Barkley largely impressed but did have a few performances befitting his age, like a 5-for-13 day in the first scrimmage of fall camp on Aug. 13.
“Having him out here kind of does challenge me a little more,” Barkley said. “It makes me try to play harder, but I don’t feel any more pressure because he’s out here.”
Carroll announced during a team meeting Tuesday that senior Jordan Congdon will be the starting placekicker for the season opener.
Congdon, a 22-year-old transfer from Nebraska who sat out last season, beat out redshirt junior Joe Houston in a competition that appeared neck-and-neck throughout fall camp.
“This is just a new start,” Congdon said. “Joe’s gonna be there all season. If I’m not doing my job, I know they’re not gonna have any problem putting him in. I wouldn’t have had as good a fall camp if he wasn’t here.”
Carroll said the decision wasn’t based on just one factor, although Congdon did appear to knock down a higher percentage of his attempts in recent practices.
“I thought Jordan separated a little bit here in his numbers,” Carroll said. “We kept track of everything they did — the timing, all that stuff, and Jordan finished with considerably better numbers.”
Congdon was a first-team Freshman All-American with the Cornhuskers in 2005, going 19-for-23 on field goal attempts and 31-for-32 on PATs.
“I’ll have some decent game exposure,” Congdon said. “I had two years there, so I’ll be going into the game with confidence that maybe a guy that didn’t have all the reps that I had in games wouldn’t have.”
Tight end Blake Ayles missed practice Tuesday while recovering from a minor heart procedure.
The sophomore had surgery Monday to steady an irregular heartbeat.
“They went in and they fused something out,” said Ayles, who missed all of spring practice with a knee injury. “It was a trip, the whole experience. They touched my heart. It was real weird.”
Ayles said he would practice Wednesday.
Congdon and redshirt junior safety Robert Erickson were awarded scholarships Tuesday. Carroll had praised Erickson’s performance on more than one occasion during fall camp.
Carroll said that junior Jacob Harfman would handle kickoffs this season. Harfman, a transfer from Mt. San Antonio Junior College, is also competing for the punting job with redshirt junior Billy O’Malley.